Heads of state from over 100 countries and tens of thousands of representatives from nongovernmental organizations and businesses will descend on Rio de Janeiro this month for the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. With the slogan “The Future We Want,” participants will aim to put in place a universal framework to tackle the interlinked challenges of economic and social development, poverty eradication and environmental protection.
Leading up to the summit, however, negotiations are stalled amidst disagreements between developed and developing countries on what should constitute the roadmap to sustainable development. Developing countries are cautious to commit to a framework that might restrain their economic development, and developed countries—most battling severe economic crises—are reticent to include language that would require them to aid poorer nations with implementation, financing and the technology needed to meet agreed goals.
The deadlock is emblematic of a broader shift in the global power structure whereby developed countries, now less able to commit significant levels of resources to multilateral efforts, are leaving a void in global governance that emerging and middle-income economies are gradually beginning to fill. As these new actors rise to global prominence, however, the standoff also points to the difficult path we face in solving global challenges.
In an age fraught with economic malaise and fragmented political interests, can there truly be a unified vision of a future we want?
Rio+20 is unlikely to yield any binding international agreements, and most experts have already deemed the summit a failure. Even so, a look at how some of the largest emerging economies including India, China and Brazil are leveraging their growing economic heft as donors of development aid can provide a glimpse into the kind of future they envision for the world.
Official data on development assistance by so-called “emerging donors” varies considerably as countries lack transparency in reporting and have varied definitions for what constitutes aid. Still, even conservative estimates show that emerging economies are aggressively joining the ranks of international donors, backed by a philosophy that—at least theoretically—represents an alternative to that of traditional donors, specifically members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).